Carolyn Gates describes her band mate Carla Baptista as an “exciting enigma”: “She shows up to band practice every week with flaxseed cookies that she baked herself. They’re low in sugar and high in fiber, and will sustain you through a practice! And she want to play Judas Priest songs. We’ve got muffins and Judas Priest. What more could you want out of life? I just thought that was such an enigma that it should be a band.”
The band that Gates and Baptista started together is called Betty Rocker, which they half-jokingly describe as Betty Crocker meets Black Sabbath. Gates sings—with a melodic but occasionally sneering voice—and plays the bass. Baptista plays guitar, with a crunchy, fuzzy, grungy tone, swinging and punching with classic rock power chords. And drummer Rick Charles ties the sound together with solid, unwavering backbeat.
The lineup came together in 2012. Gates and Baptista had been writing songs together and jamming with a different drummer, but when it came time to start playing shows, they recruited Charles.
“It made every single song we’d ever played sound giant and awesome,” said Gates, of the first time they played with Charles. “It gave us a big fat train to ride for our magical four-chord combinations.”
The band is based out of Carson City. Gates played drums in the great rock band Blunderbusst, but, other than that, no one else in the band had previous experience playing in performing ensembles. Charles learned to play along to records and Baptista had to overcome some shyness.
“The first time I said, ’Would you like to play some rock ’n’ roll?,’ she said, as she backed away, crossing her arms in front of herself, ’oh, I could never play in front of another person,’” said Gates.
And for Gates, it was her first time stepping out from behind a drum kit to both play an instrument and sing.
The women in the band split songwriting duties about 50-50. Gates does the majority of the singing, even of Baptista’s lyrics, although Baptista herself has a great rock ’n’ roll singing voice that pops up occasionally in concert and on the band’s full-length CD album, titled Couldn’t Look Away. Charles has the classic drummer attitude—he just wants to rock and lets his band mates worry about the frivolous stuff, like song lyrics and the name of the band.
The two songwriters have very different approaches. Gates writes with a focus on storytelling and wordplay, whereas Baptista focuses on guitar riffs and shorter melodic phrases.
“Carla writes really great riffs, and because she’s not a veteran guitar player, there’s no inhibition about writing a three chord riff,” said Gates.
“When we bring a new idea together and the three of us are working on it … we each bring a different idea of what this rock sound should sound like,” said Baptista. “My observation is that each of us were born in a different decade, so each of us came to age listening to different ideas of rock. It just colors you, no matter how many years later it is. It just comes out. … But when we’re playing together and having a good practice or a good show, it’s weird, the age and the gender just disappear. But it does make a difference.”
The results are swaggering, heavy rock that draws from different influences, but seems to find a happy center around an early ’90s alternative tone. The music often feels aggressive.
“I think anger sort of personifies the genre we like to play,” said Gates. “It captures the tone, the guitar tone and the tempos we like. It’s quite angry. But we’re not angry people. We’re all quite pleasant. We hardly ever swear and rarely imbibe.”
Instead, they bake muffins.